Golden Knights’ comeback vs. Avalanche brings out best of NHL Playoffs

The Vegas Golden Knights scored two goals in 45 seconds late in the third period to comeback to beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 get their first win of the series down 2-1.

It was a sound for waiting ears and a sight for sore eyes, one of the National Hockey League’s best buildings filled to the rafters, and a hockey game so compelling you wished it would never end.

In front of a capacity crowd at T-Mobile Arena off the Vegas strip, the Vegas Golden Knights dominated the Colorado Avalanche all night long. But still, they needed two goals in 45 seconds late in the third period to crawl back into this Round 2 series, beating the Avs in a fabulous Game 3 played in an atmosphere that felt as cool to watch on TV as was to attend.

“It was probably cooler (to be on the ice),” said Nick Holden, the Vegas defenceman who couldn’t hear a thing when he drifted a shot toward the Avalanche net that Max Pacioretty deflected home for the winner in a wildly entertaining 3-2 game. “To not have full fans — or full capacity, for us — all year, the building was loud and energetic. We scored those two quick goals in the third period, and I don’t think I’ve played in a louder building.

“Our fans know how to bring it. They brought it today.”

Montreal, Nashville and Vegas.

If you’re contemplating a road trip with your favourite team, those are the three places to start, in no particular order.

Couple that atmosphere with the reality of how much we’ve missed the energy that a full house can bring to a game, and you had a Game 3 that — finally — felt and sounded the way an important NHL playoff game is supposed to feel and sound.

“It’s so fun to play in front of fans — especially our fans,” Pacioretty said. “We’ve talked so often about how they can help us take over a game, and they stayed with us right ‘til the end. The place was electric, you could probably feel it up top, in the stands, through the TV. It’s the best place to play — especially in the playoffs.”

The standings say that Avalanche and the Golden Knights were the two best teams in the National Hockey League this season. Now, the Tampa Bay Lightning may have a thing or two to say about that, but when it comes to back-and-forth, firewagon hockey, even the Stanley Cup champs have nothing on this series.

In a Game 3 that opened up into a delicious brand of wide-open hockey, it was played at a frenetic pace throughout, with Vegas outshooting Colorado 42-20, but needing a late comeback to secure this season-saving win.

Mikko Rantanen scored at 5:04 of the third period to give Colorado an improbable 2-1 lead, as Vegas peppered goalie Philipp Grubauer with pucks, outshooting the Avalanche 24-12 in the opening 40 minutes.

Almost nobody could score on Grubauer from in front of the net, so Jonathan Marchessault banked one in off the goalie’s butt from behind the net to tie the game with 5:18 to play. Then Holden drifted a shot from the point on the very next shift, and Pacioretty deflected his high shot down to the ice and past Grubauer for what would stand as the winner.

It was a perfect example of a role player like Holden, who spent much of the season in the press box, putting on the cape to help seize a must-win game for his club. And if you don’t know much about Holden, a lanky 34-year-old from St. Alberta, Alberta, don’t worry.

He is very much appreciated in the Golden Knights room.

“Nick Holden means the world to this team,” Pacioretty attested. “He was dealt a tough hand, not playing for so long, and every single day he came in he had a smile on his face. He didn’t act any different when he was in the lineup on the top pair, or not in the lineup. That attitude is contagious.

“I think he’s playing the best hockey he’s played since I’ve been here. He’s played a huge, huge part in our success.”

Meanwhile, the Avalanche weren’t so keen on the storyline. They were outplayed from puck drop in this one, and that had head coach Jared Bednar reminding us that the Golden Knights also dominated the back end of Game 2 as well.

“It’s too long now. It’s too long,” Bednar said of the run of play. “We can dissect the game in 100 different ways. It’s a waste of time.

“The video doesn’t lie. They were more competitive from start to the finish and they won the hockey game. That’s the adjustment: Make sure we outwork our opponent and execute.

“Now we have to crank that up. Because, that was not close.”

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Colorado got a goal from the fourth line and another power-play marker from sniper Rantanen. Overall, however, Vegas’ top players outplayed Colorado’s, another fact that did not go unnoticed by Bednar.

“I starts there (leadership). Go ahead and check the numbers of our top guys tonight and see what they did compared to their top players. It’s not close. The hardest working player we have right now is Philipp Grubauer,” said the coach, who put his lines in the blender in the third period. “There’s nothing going on offensively the whole night. Zero. You’re going to leave it the same? No. We got a little life after we scored the goal and then we still had more breakdowns.

“When you’re in a game of this magnitude you need your top guys to be top guys. That’s what they’re here for.”

This series is starting to boil, folks.

Miss Game 4 on Sunday night at your own peril.

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